Gwaldam: A Lesser Known Hill station Perfect for a Quiet Respite
by Madhurima Maiti
Thursday, October 6, 2016
I am completely smitten by the charming state of Uttarakhand and the various opportunities of experience the place offers. This Indian state provides a wholesome glimpse of the diverse culture of India and every region is worth exploring. Suitable for both long and short trips, it is also perfect for weekend getaways or a day trip to unwind and rejuvenate. Having been to Uttarakhand for four times and staying for more than twenty days every time, I have been really fortunate to witness its breathtaking beauty, know the state and its people closely and this drives me to visit the place again and again, whenever I can.
HOW I LANDED UP IN GWALDAM
Every time I visit Uttarakhand, I make sure to explore new regions that I have not been to in my previous trips. This state is very versatile and is replete with amusements to delight all kinds of travellers and tourists. The best way to explore Uttarakhand is to focus on different areas based on your interests and it is not exaggerating to say that probably this is the only state in North India that offers the best medley of interests in a single tour package, if planned properly.
My first trip to Uttarakhand was for twenty-two days. It was mainly a spiritual trip in which I had covered – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Harshil, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Joshimath, Pipalkoti, Chamoli, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Mukteshwar and other places. The second trip was a combination of fun and spiritual respite, in which I covered – Haldwani, Nainital, Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal, Sat Tal, Dehradun, Musoorie, Chamoli, Kausani, Haridwar and Rishikesh. The third trip was an adventurous one with a sheer emphasis on forests and nature. Here, I covered the places – Kathgodam, Nainital (once more), Jim Corbett National Park, Binsar, Chaukori, Munsiyari, Pitthoragarh, Jageshwar etc. My recent trip is, again, a medley of mesmerising mountains and hypnotizing forests in the lap of unadulterated nature.
Gwaldam Wasn’t Planned
This time (September end 2016), when I sat to chalk out my plan, I had not included Gwaldam in my bucket list initially. I was looking forward to repeat some of the previous places along with some new ones. My first mapping draft included – Kathgodam, Jeolikot, Nainital (yes, once again because I am truly in love with this place), Ranikhet, Almora, Binsar, Chaukori, Dharamghar, Bageshwar, Kausani, Baijnath, Someshwar, Mukteshwar, Sat Tal, Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal.
Accordingly, I started my road trip from Kathgodam with full enthusiasm. However, on reaching half way of my tour plan at Chaukori, I heard about Gwaldam from a local tea-seller while sipping tea in his humble stall. “Tell me Kaka (a common Indian term to address ‘uncle’ or ‘elderly’) about a not-so-popular and unusual place nearby which will take my heart away”, that’s all I said to the old man. Talking with the natives about their places is always fruitful. The political turmoil of Gwaldam in the historic age due to its geographical location, as narrated by him, was quite a boost to the rising interest for this place. And as soon as he described its scenic beauty, being located at the border of the Garhwal and Kumaon hills, I made up my mind to visit Gwaldam in this trip.
THINGS TO SEE AND ACTIVITIES
Gwaldam is perfect for nature lovers who want to enjoy the scenic beauty of the misty mountains ornamented with pine forests and terraced fields. Once a place boasting lush tea gardens during the British era in India, now boasts of beautiful apple orchards. The picturesque beauty of the place promises captivating views of the snow capped Himalayan ranges like Trishul (7051 metres), Nanda Devi (7817 metres), Nanda Ghunti (6309 metres) including the peaks of Kedar and Chaukhamba in clear weather. Gwaldam is best explored by hiking through the place. About one and a half kilometres from the town of Gwaldam is a Tibetan colony. Walking through a narrow path with cattle grazing on the grasslands on one side, well-kept flower gardens on the other side visited by various species of butterflies like Indian Tortoiseshell, Silver Pansy and the mighty mountain view in front, have the capacity to please all visitors. A small monastery stands in full glory facing the Himalayas that captures the tranquil and pure essence of the place perfectly. Surrounded with cedar and orange trees, it’s an amazing place to visit.
When I reached the monastery, the door was closed. I could see nobody around. Within a short distance, an old lady was sitting quietly outside her home with a prayer wheel in her hand. Suddenly a kid peeped out of the door and walked to me. “Hello, how are you?” I asked her to start a conversation. The child smiled and asked, “You want to go inside the monastery”? I nodded. “Wait, I will bring the keys”, she said and hurried up the stairs. Her family maintains the monastery and one of her brothers is a lama. She opened the door and also reminded that photography inside the monastery is not allowed. The child assisted throughout the entire spiritual period that I spent there.
Other places for sightseeing that are worth to visit are Badhangari, Machhi Taal (a huge man-made lake rearing fish dated back to the British era), Gwaldam Naag, Angyari Mahadev, Durga Temple and river sites of Pindar. Walking through the lanes of the Gwaldam market, which was historically popular for the post office and tea factory of the British Raj era, is also one pleasing classic experience. There is also a Shashastra Seema Bal (SSB) or Armed Border Force Training centre in Gwaldam where entry is prohibited.
WHAT ELSE TO SEE IN AND AROUND
Gwaldam serves as the starting point or the base for some of the most exciting trekking routes of Uttarakhand like Roopkund, Kuari Pass and Nanda Devi Raj Jat. On reaching Taal by road, 4 km away from Gwaldam, one can trek another 4 km to see the remains of the fort site of the historical Chand Rajas. About 12 km from Gwaldam is Dewal, which is worth visiting for its breathtaking scenic beauty and the magnificent views of the peaks of Nanda Ghunti and Trishul. The confluence of Pindar and Koyel rivers lies 1 km east of Dewal.
HOW TO REACH
Gwaldam is well connected by roads. It is 160 km from Kathgodam (the nearest railway station), 149 km from Nainital, 45 km from Bageshwar, 22 km from Baijnath, 36 km from Kausani. I had taken the road to Gwaldam from Bageshwar. The nearest airport is located in Pant Nagar, 250 km from Gwaldam.
WHERE TO STAY
I had my stay in state-run GMVN rest house (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) which offers a comfortable accommodation with basic amenities. Forest Rest House (FRH), Dharamshala and many private hotels are also available. Nature’s Treat Resort is also a good option to stay.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
It can be visited throughout the year. But since the Himalayan view holds much of an importance for this place, the best time to visit is October-December, when the weather is clear to offer a majestic view. November-December is also the best time to see ripe oranges. However, if you want to enjoy the apple orchards in full bloom, August end –September second week would be the best bet.